Suspending funds to UNRWA means endangering the lives 5.9 of million people
05-02-2024 | di COOPI

Suspending funds to UNRWA means endangering the lives 5.9 of million people

The Italian Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) grouped in the AOI and CINI networks, the Piattaforma of Italian CSOs in the Middle East and Mediterranean, Amnesty International and Assopace Palestina express strong concern about the heavy humanitarian crisis that has been going on in Gaza for more than 100 days, now aggravated also by the suspension by many Countries, including Italy, of funds allocated to the United Nations Reliefs and Words Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which has been providing assistance to Palestinian refugees since 1949: today 5. 9 million people between the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In these territories, UNRWA operates 58 refugee camps, with 706 schools attended by more than 543,000 girls and boys; 140 health centers that carry out 7 million basic medical examinations each year, plus 113 women's service points, not counting economic support initiatives for families. UNRWA employees number is about 30,000.

Suspending funding to UNRWA is therefore collectively punishing and endangering the lives of 5.9 million people already living in extremely vulnerable conditions, including - of course - the inhabitants of Gaza (2. 3 million people). Their lives are at risk every day due to incessant Israeli shelling, artillery strikes by the troops that have invaded the Strip, due to hunger and disease caused by the poor hygienic conditions in which they have been living since the destruction of the Strip, which began last october, and due to the numerous evacuation orders issued by the Israeli army, who have forced more than 85 percent of the population to leave their homes and find refuge, predominantly, right inside UNRWA facilities. Without funding, humanitarian assistance in Gaza will collapse with dire consequences for the basic human rights of its inhabitants.

Israel's accusations against some UNRWA employees do not constitute sufficient grounds for suspending funds to the Agency. Even if the allegations turn out to be true, the Agency could not be held collectively responsible for the acts committed by some of its employees. Instead, we believe that the measures promptly taken by UNRWA against the 12 employees who were accused by Israel of participating in the massacre perpetrated by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups on Oct. 7 testify to the firmness and transparency of a serious and trustworthy organization.

At the same time, we recall that 152 UNRWA staff members lost their lives under Israeli bombs dropped on Gaza's civilian population while trying to carry out their work. In addition, 147 of its facilities were hit and damaged.

UNRWA is the main humanitarian agency in Gaza and its provision of humanitarian assistance cannot be replaced by any other agency. If the funding suspensions are not lifted, we will see a complete collapse of the already limited humanitarian response in Gaza. Since the beginning of the bombings, UNRWA staff have continued to work under nearly impossible circumstances to provide food, vaccinations and clean water.

Countries that suspend funds risk further depriving Palestinians, not only in Gaza, but in the entire region, of food, water, medical care and supplies, education and protection, making themselves complicit in the deaths of so many.

Also confirming the need and obligation to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza is the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued on January 26, 2024 (South Africa-Israel) in response to South Africa's request to initiate proceedings against Israel, accused of violating the Genocide Convention for its actions in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, 2023. The ruling recognizes the plausibility that Israel is committing acts that constitute genocide under the Convention (para. 54) and acknowledges that there is a real and imminent risk of irreparable harm to the rights protected by the Convention (para. 74). The interim measures ordered include: refraining from any further act that may constitute genocide; preventing and punishing incitement to genocide; consenting to humanitarian assistance; preventing the destruction and preservation of evidence; and submitting a report to the Court within one month detailing the measures taken to atuate the ruling. These interim measures are binding on Israel. In light of this, all States have a general obligation to ensure that genocide is not committed, and in particular the 153 states party to the Genocide Convention, including Italy, have an obligation to ensure the atuuation of the provisional measures and to employ all reasonably available means to prevent genocide.

Therefore, choosing to suspend funds to UNRWA could be a violation of Italy's obligations to prevent genocide.

We therefore reiterate our call to our government:

  • To do everything in its power to ensure that a permanent ceasefire is reached as soon as possible.
  • To do everything in its power to ensure that humanitarian assistance in Gaza can be carried out in the most expedient manner and time in order to save as many lives as possible as soon as possible
  • To lift the suspension of funds to UNRWA, in line with its obligations to prevent the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, since the direct consequence of such a suspension is a decrease in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian population, and that this consequence runs counter to one of the precautionary measures established by the ruling of the International Court of Justice.